McCarthey Athletic Center – Gonzaga Bulldogs
Photos by Libby Kamrowski, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.14
McCarthey Athletic Center 801 N Cincinnati St Spokane, WA 99258
Year Opened: 2004
Gonzaga University’s McCarthey Athletic Center is a state of the art 6,000-seat arena that is home to the Kennel and the Gonzaga Bulldogs in Spokane, Washington. The $25 million McCarthey Center came as the much-needed upgrade from the former Charlotte Y. Martin Center in 2004. The Bulldogs, known frequently as the Zags, are part of the West Coast Conference and made school history by competing in the NCAA National Championship in 2017.
Food & Beverage 5
Fans attending basketball games in the McCarthey Athletic Center can visit the concourse that encapsulates the arena and choose from a variety of choices from 10 permanent concession stands as well as tables from outside food chain vendors. The arena accepts cash, credit and debit cards as well as student Bulldog Bucks as payment for food and beverages; and the staff that run the counters are known to be upbeat and conscious of your time, whether they are employed or working as volunteers.
Fans flocking to this Spokane, Washington venue can be easily satisfied with the breadth of sustenance options available onsite. The low to mid-priced classic concessions can be found at multiple “Kennel Grill” or “Snack Bar” counters around the venue, perfect for picking up a hot cheeseburger, hot dog, soft pretzel, popcorn, or candy. Outside of these more generic concession options, there are Kennel Creations carts featuring more focused food themes such as pasta or stir fry which patrons can watch being made. In addition to these Sodexo Food Service options, private outside vendors such as Ben & Jerry’s, local Wake Up Call Coffee, and Papa John’s can be purchased on the concourse.
Pepsi is the major brand that services the Kennel and can be purchased fountain style or in bottled form. Fans can also purchase souvenir stadium cups featuring the best of Gonzaga basketball players pertinent to the current season. Alcohol is not permitted on the premises nor is it sold within McCarthey Athletic Center.
The Dippin’ Dots booth located on the northwest corner of the concourse is the student favorite for a sweet treat. However, if a fan is seeking more than a snack and has a few more dollars to spend, the Kennel Carvery is simultaneously the highest quality and most filling option available, featuring hand-carved turkey and roast beef sandwiches on brioche buns with choice of cheese and a selection of mouth-watering toppings, also accompanied by packaged chips and a dill pickle spear.
The well-kept McCarthey Center is organized into two tiers and completely surrounds the classic hardwood basketball court, which is adorned with an enormous Gonzaga University logo complete with Spike the Bulldog’s image. Surrounding the perimeter of the playable area, the court is navy blue and the baseline spells out “Zags” in Gonzaga’s red, white, and blue school colors.
The McCarthey Athletic Center was designed by two brothers, Tom and Phil McCarthey, who graduated in the 1970s from Gonzaga. Nearly five years after the Bulldogs made the Elite Eight for the first time in school history, the McCarthey brothers wanted to give back to Gonzaga in an inspiring, larger-than-life way.
Even on the upper level of seating, all spaces designated for ticket holders are in the form of navy blue seats rather than bleachers. Seats are comfortably wide though somewhat shallow, but there is very limited space between rows. It is not uncommon for a fan’s knees to nearly touch the seat in front of him or her, and there is no chance of squeezing by other seated fans while navigating to a seat further down the row without everyone standing up. The first 12 rows of the Kennel have flexible bleachers to stand on when students are not seated, though the stadium was not originally designed with this feature, but the modification was necessary because too many students broke bones during game time celebrations in earlier years. The stadium’s first row that surrounds the court is a mere inches from the ground without barriers.
In 2017, the arena gained an upgrade with a Daktronics electronic scoreboard that is hung high over center court and features 36-foot by 12.5-foot screens, as well as 21-foot by 12.5-foot screens for views of replays and introductions from any angle. New video boards that lined the entirety of each baseline were also installed.
During the McCarthey experience, fans can be entertained by many different groups and traditions such as the Gonzaga Dance Team and Gonzaga’s hip hop dance team known as Bomb Squad, who trade off on the schedule for performances. Though the MAC does not have a Kiss Cam, it does have a Smile Cam and a Spirit Cam during downtime moments like timeouts, and an impressive equal-gendered cheer squad continually rallies for support. Spike the Bulldog roams the entire arena throughout the game for selfie opportunities and high fives, and is always an enthusiastic supporter for the classic half court shot competition.
Students may only stand in the Kennel area and are not permitted to enter other seating areas without tickets. As extremely energetic as the Kennel is, non-student ticket holders may not want to sit too close to the Kennel and may opt for the more docile north side of the stadium. The second tier located immediately behind this area is separated by a moderately narrow walkway and waist-height panels that do not block noise. Ticket holders may also want to avoid seating near the notoriously raucous Bulldog Band. The Gonzaga University logo in the center of the court is right-side up for those sitting on the south side of the arena.
The McCarthey Athletic Center is located just five minutes from downtown Spokane, right off of the Spokane River which leads to a beautiful cross section of both urban city and naturally beautiful waterfalls. The arena is smack dab in the middle of an area offering a full spectrum of food options, as well as other entertainment choices.
The stadium is located on Gonzaga’s picturesque campus, but is situated between the moderately dangerous Logan Neighborhood (many reports of property crime, theft and drifters) to the north and downtown city area to the south. Fans can walk in either direction for fast food and reasonably priced eating options and bars, though the heart of the high-class food scene is downtown.
After the game, one can walk to the popular No-Li Brewhouse 0.4 miles from McCarthey to grab a robust, locally made IPA and fill up on hearty barbeque or mac n’ cheese. Many looking for an informal but lively atmosphere will stop by NBA Hall-of-Famer John Stockton’s Jack & Dan’s Bar and Grill for classic bar bites and domestic beers 0.3 miles away from the stadium. A calmer, alumni-style vibe such as that of Tomato Street Italian Restaurant is also a great option for families and is located in RiverPark Square.
Though downtown Spokane can be accessed on foot from McCarthey, the Centennial Trail should not be traversed at night or alone as it is a treacherous trail that sees its fair share of crime. Walking along the Spokane River is calming and beautiful, especially at sunrise and sunset, and the City of Spokane spends the most on its parks and recreation budget out of any city of comparable size in the entire United States, making Riverfront Park a gorgeous attraction less than one mile away. Spokane has a lively music scene that invites world-famous Grammy winners and local talent alike in venues such as The Bartlett, The Knitting Factory, and the Spokane Arena all within three miles from Gonzaga University.
Overwhelming, the most popular lodging option near to Gonzaga University is the high-end Davenport Grand Hotel, located 1.2 miles from the MAC. The Davenport has valet service, a rooftop bar, clean and spacious rooms, and is mere city blocks away from virtually all of the attractions downtown. If the Davenport is out of one’s price range, the Doubletree Hilton or Hotel RL may be more accessible and price-friendly, while still a mile or less from GU.
Gonzaga University is home to one of the most electric, crazed, and united fan bases in all of college basketball. For a tiny school in the Pacific Northwest, the Zags have topped the lists for most spirited schools in the country, year after year, alongside schools that eclipse GU’s student population size.
Rarely does the student section not sell out, and the rabid devotion of the student section, lovingly called the Kennel, is unable to be ignored, especially during the pre-game and halftime choreographed dance to the unofficial fight song, Zombie Nation. The bleachers thunder with the pounding of 2,400 feet, and the volume can be nearly unbearable, but chill-inspiring nonetheless. It doesn’t matter if it is an exhibition game, conference game, or even just a watch party for a post-season away game: it’s safe to say that the Kennel will always be wild.
The Gonzaga University Kennel Club was founded in 1984 and is an official student membership club, the largest of any extracurricular engagement at Gonzaga. If students don’t dress in their Kennel shirts, they are sure to go all out in head-to-toe school colors, American flag gear, silly costumes, or decked out in full face paint. Students stand on their feet despite having actual seats, and it would be difficult to find a single student in the section not participating in Zombie Nation, the pre-game rally known as The Hum, or the Spirit Cam. Most students wait outside for up to half a day for ticket distributions, and at least three games per season the Kennel Club hosts Tent City, the long-standing tradition of competing for tenting spots that correspond to better seating in the Kennel after camping out overnight in the dead of winter to attend the game.
Fans are required to drive or walk through the east end of Gonzaga’s campus and dorms in order to reach the McCarthey Athletic Center, but once inside the arena, fairly wide concourses make navigating on foot a breeze.
An Uber or Lyft ride from the heart of downtown Spokane five minutes away is around $6.50, but fares will increase during surge times. Spokane Public Transit has a $1.50 bus fare and the number 26 bus has a stop just two blocks from McCarthey on North Cincinnati Street, but public transit outside of rideshare options such as Lyft or Uber are uncommon when attending Gonzaga games. Spokane International Airport is a 20 minute ride on the freeway and is located in Airway Heights, Washington.
Free game day parking is available in a spacious lot to the south of McCarthey, as well as in a four story parking garage one block away at the corner of N. Cincinnati Street and Boone Avenue. The parking garage is the surefire way to go if a fan has no physical limitations, as it will require the least amount of driving on the campus’s two-way roads (it is accessible via North Hamilton Avenue) right off of the freeway entrance.
Apprehensive of rowdy college students ready for game time? Have no fear, students and paying ticket holders do not access the stadium through the same entrance. McCarthey is situated upon a small hill, but each entrance for ticket holders is at street level without climbing the hill. Security is very strict and does not allow ANY food or beverages, and fans may not bring backpacks or liquids, and it is not uncommon for security to make fans throw away signs before entry even if they are not raunchy.
There is only one concourse that encapsulates the stadium between tiers, but in each corner of the McCarthey Athletic Center the court is visible. Many fans stop to take photos in these areas because the full size of the arena is truly on display.
Restrooms are located at each of these corners, as well as midway down the concourse. Each has multiple handicap-accessible stalls, and restrooms are in satisfactory or above average condition and are never stocked in a sub-par manner. Drinking fountains are located on the northeast and northwest corners.
If a Zag patron is handicapped, parking is located on a side branch of the parking lot closest to N. Cincinnati Street, between the northeast and southeast areas of the stadium outside.
Return on Investment 3
Obtaining tickets for a men’s basketball game as a non-student is nearly a mystery at Gonzaga. Most community members and campus staff say that they have never attended a game due to ticket prices, and the waiting list is quite literally years long to get onto for both season tickets and single-game tickets.
Fans interested in entering the men’s basketball single-ticket waiting list can register at http://www.gozags.com/tickets/m-baskbl-gonz-waitlist.html, or view information about how to gain “priority points” as a donor to the Zags Athletic Giving fund. The stadium has been continually sold out for years and there is no period of “first come first serve” ticket purchase for regular-season tickets like one would find for concert venues.
Outside of ticketing costs and donations, parking is free and public transportation cost is low in Spokane. Within the venue, if a fan purchases food and drink the total would be around $6 to $11.
There are no group ticketing options available for men’s basketball games, but women’s basketball games are very accessible to the community and encourage group ticketing. This is a perfect option for a youth basketball team that wants to look up to their women’s basketball heroes, and ticket prices can be as low as a few dollars.
For most Gonzaga men’s basketball games, the Kennel is allotted 1,000-1,400 for students. The rest of the arena is comprised of alumni, family, community members and other fans. Though the only way to gain access to McCarthey is through attending a basketball game, as the arena very rarely hosts special events that are not related to basketball, fans can keep their aesthetically pleasing player-featuring tickets as souvenirs. These tickets are similar to the floor to ceiling Hall of Fame photos that decorate the main concourse, regaling the best of both the men’s and women’s teams and highlighting their most impressive accolades.
Viewable from any seat, fans can read banners detailing how far the Zags have gone each year in the NCAA tournament. In October 2017, the arena was able to unveil the special NCAA Final Four banner that was earned earlier in the year, marking the first time Gonzaga had ever participated in the Final Four, much less the championship.
The northeast corner of the McCarthey Athletic Center sells licensed apparel from the exceedingly popular Bulldog Sports Shop. This merchandise is presented impressively for a stadium in wood paneled shelving and manned by genuinely friendly associates who sell actual high-quality items. The Bulldog Sports Shop booth in McCarthey sometimes creates Zag gear that is available exclusively onsite during game time, and a T-shirt can cost as little as $10.